Thomas Ryan PPRHA 1929 – 2021

The President and Members of the Academy are deeply saddened to announce that senior Member and ex- President, Thomas Ryan PPRHA passed away peacefully, on the 14 September, 2021.

Thomas Ryan was born Limerick in 1929 and educated in the Christian Brothers School, Limerick; the School of Art, Limerick; the National College of Art & Design, Dublin under Seán Keating and Maurice MacGonigal. He was President of Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts from 1982 to 1992.

Thomas Ryan was also an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy, London and Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh, Governor of the National Gallery of Ireland, 1979-1982, President of the United Arts Club, Dublin, President of the Limerick Art Society; Associate of the National College of Art & Design, Council Member of the Watercolour Society of Ireland, Board Member of the Stamp Design Committee for An Post, Founder Member of the European Council of National Academies of Fine Art (Madrid), Member of Council “The British School at Rome”, Council Member of “The British Institution”, London 1983-1993, Knight of the Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, Knight Commander of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, Member of the Order of Dom Carlos Primera of Portugal and a Doctor of Letters from the University of Limerick.

Our sincere condolences to his family.

A Message from James Hanley RHA

Dr. Thomas Ryan PPRHA passed away peacefully last week, just one day short of his 92nd birthday, after a short illness.

At his funeral mass in Ashbourne on Friday he was remembered for his life-long dedication to his art, for his profound love of family, his  deep faith, and his long connection to the Royal Hibernian Academy. Two offertory gifts in particular had given him immense pride. The first was the ceremonial graduation tam he wore on the day he was conferred with an honorary doctorate from the University of Limerick. The second was the scroll he received on the occasion of getting the freedom of that same city on the Shannon, the city of his birth. Both honours dispelled the myth of the prophet not being accepted in his own town and both meant so much to him.

He loved his native city. He was educated there and like his fellow citizen and artistic hero, Sean Keating PPRHA from a generation before, would go on to achieve similar success and would too become an influential president of the RHA at a challenging time in its history.

Tom and his wife Mary raised a family of four sons and two daughters in a happy home that he supported entirely from his full-time professional work as an artist. Over nearly seven decades he worked and survived from his art even during very difficult times in Ireland to do so. He was incredibly prolific. Instead of a photographic record of his work he made beautiful thumbnails alongside the measurements, prices and sales details in stand-alone sketch pads.

Tom Ryan believed in working in time-honoured hierarchies of subject matter — history painting, religious works, landscapes, portraits, interiors, architectural subjects and still lifes. He also chronicled the lives of his adored wife, children and grandchildren. He designed coins and stamps and was a brilliant cartoonist — a skill recently revealed in playful pen and inks from the estate of the late Homan Potterton that were gifts from Tom when he was a board member of the National Gallery and Homan was director.

Tom Ryan loved being a member of the RHA and during his presidency from 1982 to 1992 he oversaw the completion of our building from the stalled development in 1974, following the death of our main benefactor Matt Gallagher. Back in those tough economic times, Tom had the skill and the drive to turn an empty concrete shell into the fine functioning gallery that served us well until our further development in 2008. What he did with the building cannot be underestimated and was an enormous achievement.

He will also be remembered for the pleasure his art gave to countless collectors and admirers over the decades. His work can be found in most of the institutions of the state and he exhibited all over Ireland during his long career.

Tom was a witty storyteller and relished being provocative but always with a twinkle in his eye. He was not afraid to speak his mind which was refreshing as you always knew his position on any number of matters from art to abstraction, politics to photography. He lived a very full and rich life.

Rest in peace Tom, from all of us in Ely Place and sincere sympathies to Mary, Pearse, John, Ann, Myles, Eavan and Aengus and to all his extended family.

-  James Hanley RHA

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